The Knight And The Rose
by Isolde Martyn, historical (2002)
Berkley, $14.00, ISBN 0-425-18329-7


I hate to reviews books like The Knight And The Rose. They have "Snob Quality" stamped all over them, and any dis from me will make me come off like a plebian nitwit. Yes, The Knight And The Rose is very, very impressive in its historical details and its ability to capture the feel of the medieval. Yes, Isolde Martyn is the former chief of the Australian branch of the Richard III Society and currently the deputy chair of the Plantagenet Society of Australia.

I'm going to come off looking like a hilly-billy romance reader sticking it to The Knight And The Rose.

Yeah? I'll stick it anyway. Take that!

Actually, I have no idea why reviewers are raving about Isolde Martyn like crazy. From this book and her debut, The Maiden And The Unicorn, I'd say Ms Martyn still has a long way to go before mastering the art of creating realistic heroines and heroes to do her meticulously crafted stories justice. History is definitely the most potent muse Ms Martyn has, but egad, the hero and heroine of hers want me want to throttle them cheerfully.

Our pro-Earl-of-Lancester hero Geraint is fleeing the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, where King Edward II has kicked Lancester and his rebels' butts bad. Geraint is accompanied by wounded Edmund Mortimer, somebody important (if you care, unlike me, you can always look up the history of England or just bug Ms Martyn with an email or two). Geraint and Edmund end up being nursed back to health by Lady Constance and her people. Geraint tries to pass himself off as a scholar, but his disguise is seen through at once by the wily Lady Constance, who then exacts payment.

Geraint will pose as the first hubby Constance's daughter, Lady Johanna. Johanna's real hubby Fulk is a very abusive SOB, and if fake bigamy is the way to free Johanna from her husband, so be it. But it's a long, tortuous way to freedom via the treacherous sidelines and back lanes of political intrigue.

The political intrigue and the atmosphere are superb. I don't know if this is really the real thing, and I won't insult Ms Martyn by suggesting otherwise, but dang, I feel as if I am right there in medieval times reading this book. And unlike The Maiden And The Unicorn - where the author unleashes what seems like a million historical figures that has me, an ignorant bumpkin who has the temerity to believe that England isn't the center of the universe (and no, it's not Scotland either), completely lost - this book has a more manageable and lesser amount of name dropping and cameos from real but long dead people.

But ahem, the romance? Ahem. Strip away the historical tapestry, and remove the desperate post-Roberta Gellis craving for meaty historical romances in the market, and one will find that the main characters of this story are half-baked, bratty, and whiny. Johanna is the worst.

May I suggest to the author that having the two main characters bickering all the time regardless of whether it makes sense to do so or not, that is not exactly what we call "conflict"? From the get go, Johanna is already harping on Geraint's intelligence, size, looks, behavior, and everything really - and this from a woman who has been badly abused by her husband? You'd think an abused wife will have learned some discretion and caution in dealing with men instead of mouthing off like some harpy fishwife begging to be rolling-pinned to death. If Johanna's mother can put two and two together and see through Geraint's not at all subtle attempts at disguise, why couldn't Johanna? Maybe she's not that smart after all.

As for Geraint, hmmph. I like his gray character - here is a knight who will do all he can to survive, even if it means robbing and killing, but he really lowers himself by baiting Johanna and then sniping back when she bites the big one. Incidentally, I can't help but to wonder whether this story will be more interesting if Geraint is really a celibate scholar out of his league. As it is, he's Superknight to the rescue, throwing a constantly protesting and sniping Louis Lane over his shiny-armored shoulder towards the sunset. Bah.

Yeah, my credibility is over. I'm a simpleton reader who can't bite quality meat romance if it slaps me in the hind. But I still say The Knight And The Unicorn is pretty much a mediocre romance where annoying bickering is passed off as sexual tension. Ms Martyn seems to have spent so much time on research, she completely neglected the characterization and romance of her romance story. Maybe she should have written an outright historical fiction instead, instead of this "romance story" where the romantic part just happens to be that the two main characters fall in love, and because the author tells me so. What a pity, really.

Rating: 60


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